At just about every airport across the US, you'll notice the hustle and bustle, including the Birmingham Shuttlesworth International Airport.
Since 9/11, the government and airlines have worked to keep travelers safer. Strict standards are enforced by the Transportation Security Administration or TSA. As a result, lines, in some cases lines are long, frustrations high, and the busy traveler is short on time.
To ease traveling pains, five trusted traveler programs are now in place - at a cost. With these programs, pre-screened travelers can jump to the head of the line and enjoy these other benefits: keeping shoes and belts on and laptops in bags.
TSA operates its own program called Pre-check. It was recently added to Birmingham's airport. The fee to join - $85.
Customs and Border Patrol under the Department of Homeland Security, operates the other four programs.
Sentri, Nexus, Global entry and F.A.S.T.
Sentri, the most expensive at $122, is aimed at those who travel by vehicle between the US and Mexico.
Nexus - for both US and Canadians is the cheapest at $50 for folks traveling by vehicle between the US and Canada.
Global Entry at $100 is for international travelers.
And the Free and Secure Trade Program or F.A.S.T is geared towards truckers who frequently cross the Canadian and Mexican borders.
All of the programs require in-person interviews, and ID's are good for five years.
TSA and the Global Entry programs require fingerprinting and Global Entry requires passports to apply.
When it comes to the Customs programs, one program recognizes the other whether it's by vehicle or by air, you'll enjoy all benefits.
TSA recognizes all of the Customs programs but Customs doesn't recognize TSA's Pre check.
Pre check travelers we talked to tell us the cost of the trusted traveler ID's are worth it. Travelers like Ann Kreis. We caught up with her on this day traveling from Mexico City to Boston at Atlanta’s airport. Life before her Global Entry ID?
International Traveler, Ann Kreis said, "Well it was really a crap shoot. You wouldn't know if you were going to have a huge line or no line so calculating times was difficult.
Linda asks: "After the ID?"
Ann answers: "After the ID, I know it's not going to take me long to get through passport control. Luggage is another story, but passport control goes really fast."
Yes, folks with trusted traveler ID’s can't skip the "picking up the baggage" line but the rest is a piece of cake.
While Drew Duncan traveling from Germany to Atlanta had trouble with the Global Entry kiosk machine, getting his fingers in "just" the right place for fingerprint verification...
International Traveler, Drew Duncan said, "When I do finally get it, even still with the number of times it takes me to do it, it's still faster."
This is the main advantage to having a Global Entry ID. Take a look at these lines here behind me. These folks do not have that ID and they must stand in line through customs. But this line over here, it's the Global Entry line, no people in line, you can go right through it and out the door.
This will be the case for any ID you choose to get but AAA recommends that you do your research to discover which one is best for you.
AAA Spokesperson, Clay Ingram said, "For some people it's a great wonderful thing, for people that don't travel very often, it might not be a worthwhile thing."
But not everyone can qualify for these programs. Trusted traveler means just that. According to the folks at Global Entry, which just passed the one million membership mark, if you've done anything to endanger that trust like: Failure to declare various food products, pests and animal products, any contraband or have an extensive criminal record, you'll be denied.
And if and when you get the ID you'll still be subject to searches.
Customs and Border Protection Atlanta Port Director, Stephen Kremer said, "We always reserve the right to search anybody to make sure people aren't trying to abuse the system. We randomly check certain people."
And because the Birmingham Shuttlesworth International Airport - hasn't seen a regularly scheduled international flight in decades, you won't be able to apply for the custom's programs locally.
I applied for a Global Entry ID and had to go to Atlanta for my interview, fingerprints ...
Customs agent explains to Linda, "And now you'll notice it says continue, cause we're in training mode."
…And to learn how to operate the kiosk machine.
For the other Customs Trusted Traveler programs you won't be able to complete the application process, which incidentally is by appointment only, in Alabama either. And it's the same for TSA's Pre-check program.
These trusted traveler programs are US based only. You won't be able to use them traveling country to country outside the US.